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Music: Bad to Damone

It's fast times ahead for '80s-loving rockers

By David Simutis · March 26th, 2003 · Music
  Teen spirit and fast times: Damone comes off like AC/DC fronted by Juliana Hatfield.
Teen spirit and fast times: Damone comes off like AC/DC fronted by Juliana Hatfield.

At a time when her peers are finishing high school and her musical peers are nearly non-existent, the singer/guitarist for Damone from Waltham, Mass., is so nonplussed about her life that she sounds like she's lying in bed, barely tolerating the questions posed to her. Not that 17-year-old Noelle LeBlanc is rude; she's more like incredulous that someone actually wants to talk about her hard-rocking band.

Damone is named after ticket scalper Mike Damone (played by actor Robert Romanus) from 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If you've done the math, you'll note that the movie is older than the band's singer. Damone has its heart in the '80s as well. Guitarist Dave Pino has an unironic mullet, LeBlanc claims she loves Mötley Crüe and that her band is "cheesy," with no apology.

Like Cheap Trick or AC/DC fronted by Juliana Hatfield, Damone, which also includes bassist Vasquez (just Vasquez) and drummer Dustin Hengst, is both tough and tender. Yeah, Veruca Salt, the Breeders and Hole have been down this path, but there's always room for more bands with Marshall stack-fueled riffs tempered by female vocals.

Unlike The Donnas, who strive to prove they can kick any boy's ass, LeBlanc doesn't have to put any effort into it.

"I think it's pretty rocking music, but I have kind of a wussy voice," LeBlanc says. (As a Mötley Crüe fan, and a woman, how does she rationalize Metal's objectification of women with her own femininity? "I don't give a shit about that; that's what guys do.")

The songs are both strong and vulnerable, half by design, half by the kind of lucky accident that transforms an average band into a Rock & Roll tour de force. Pino wrote most of the songs on the band's debut, From the Attic, when he was a lovesick teenager, trying to woo an ex-girlfriend back. In 2001, a mutual friend hooked him up with LeBlanc, who was singing and recording songs in her basement. She dug his songs, switched the genders of the pronouns and Pino's songs went from lonely guy trying to get the girl to something more universal. LeBlanc might be tomboyish, but her breathy, little-girl voice can get a hard edge. Of course, it seems a little weird that most of From the Attic (which comes out May 6) is a girl singing songs about a girl written by a boy.

"It's not that weird because they're pretty basic lyrics and anyone can relate to them," she says, sounding as if she's under a pillow. And not all the songs on From the Attic are about a girl. "There are a few topics of songs: 'You and I' was written about one of Dave's other ex-girlfriends, 'Feel Bad Vibe' was written about this girl, Michelle. It used to be, 'Who's that you're with, Michelle?' And I changed it to 'Who's that in your Chevelle?' But most of the record was written about his then ex- and now current girlfriend."

That's the beautiful thing underlying From the Attic; the songs of woo actually worked. Pino's muse took him back. Ah, the joy of a happy ending. Other than the re-blossoming of young love, LeBlanc says very little has changed in the band's life. They still live in the working class town of Waltham, outside of Boston, which LeBlanc says is "pretty boring. It's similar to every other town. But it's in the middle of everything, and there's all kinds of transportation so you can go into Boston pretty easily, so it's not that bad."

And, oh, yeah, the band went to China late November/early December, playing three shows in 10 days. The band nearly caused a riot at their Beijing concert, but LeBlanc doesn't have much to say about playing to the Chinese. A stereotypical teenage trait rears its head: shopping.

"We did a lot of messing around," LeBlanc says. "We went into this old town in Shanghai, and you could walk down alleyways and there are dirt floors, and it's all dingy. There were so many people. We got to shop, and shit's like dirt-cheap over there. So I got all my Christmas shopping done (laughs). I've always wanted to travel, but I've never really got the chance. Being in the band really opens that up."

Being in the band has also allowed her to stop going to high school. She has a tutor, so she's getting a diploma, but she doesn't have to go to class. And you child welfare advocates should know that her older brother is the band's tour manager/chaperone (not that teenage girls can get into any trouble ...). So unlike the band's titular character, who was busted for selling Ozzy Osbourne tickets at the end of the movie, this Damone should have a promising future.

DAMONE plays Bogart's on Thursday with The Ataris, Further Seems Forever and The Juliana Theory.


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